St. Peter’s Basilica interior III

We are going to take a closer look at the niches in the four piers surrounding the baldacchino, and more in particular the niche that Bernini carved his Longinus for. After the baldacchino was completed, Bernini also won the competition for carving the statues in the crossing’s niches.

The crossing        The top of the baldacchino

St. Peter’s Basilica: Crossing Baldacchino
photos: Larry Koester

He proposed placing statues in the niches and carving reliefs on the balcony’s above. The balconies were already there, and were intended to display the relics of the saints enshrined there. Bernini wanted the niches and statues to match the baldacchino.

Balcony above the niche

St. Peter’s Basilica Baldacchino niche St Helen
photos: Steven Zucker and balcony: Lawrence OP

Francesco Duquesnoy ‘St Andrew’      

The statue of St Andrew was the first to be carved. Sculptor Francesco Duquesnoy was granted the assignment, but was forced to work under Bernini’s watchful eye. Notable is how much the statue resembles the statue of the same name designed by Gian Lorenzo for the Church of Saint Andrew’s at the Quirinal.

Francesco Duquesnoy 'St Andrew'
photos: Sailko; Gary Todd detail: Mary Harrsch
Andrea Bolgi 'St Helena'
photos: Wikipedia; In situ Jebulon; Balcony: Lawrence OP

Andrea Bolgi ‘St Helena’       In situ       Balcony

In 1629 Urban VIII had donated a piece of the Cross to the basilica. A statue of St Helen (who had discovered the cross) would therefore be highly appropriate for the niche below this relic. Andrea Bolgi was commissioned to carve a sculpture of this saintly woman. 

Bernini Longinus looks up        Balcony
Preliminary model study c. 1631    Fogg Museum of Art

In comparing the four statues, Bernini’s immediately stands out. There is no arguing about taste, but there is no doubt that St Longinus in his niche can still be seen very clearly from a great distance, while the other three are absorbed by their backgrounds so to speak. When you are standing directly before and below the niche you can see how Bernini achieved this effect (more information: Wikipedia)

According to legend, the Roman soldier Longinus pierced Christ’s side with a lance. He was blind, but regained his sight when he touched his eyes with his hand that was wet with Christ’s blood. Longinus of course converted to the one true faith: Christianity.

The upper niches where the relics are enshrined feature columns that were taken from the old St Peter’s, the helical columns from King Solomon’s temple. They were considered relics in their own right because they originally formed part of that famous temple. The putti above the segmental and broken pediment are repeated in the Cornaro Chapel. And finally, we will briefly look at a work that Bernini created for Pope Alexander VII.

Continuation Rome day 4: St. Peter’s Basilica interior IV